Sunday, October 4, 2009

Future Aircraft Technology: Reviewed, Considered, Critiqued

Thanks to Ollie for pointing this one out. Personally, I'm less concerned about the aviation industry's ability to comply with emissions targets, and more interested in how evolving policy and technology will impact how the Air Force does its job. We've talked about blended wing body and other future concepts here before. This recent article in MIT's Technology Review reminds us of the incremental nature (and limitations) of many of the technologies now on the table.
With these limitations in mind, by 2020, new technologies could make aircraft about 20 percent to 35 percent more efficient, on average, than planes today. Fuselage coatings and adjustable wings, among other things, could reduce drag. Engines that run hotter and at higher pressures would use less fuel, as would engines that use gears to optimize the speeds of different parts of a turbine, and open-rotor designs that resemble and have some of the efficiency advantages of turboprops.
And they're not even beginning to address potentially massive new fuel burdens from ubiquitous and perpetual UAV deployments. We better hope there's a breakthrough in either Star Trek transporter technology or Harry Potter flue powder, because evolving-but-traditional jet planes simply aren't keeping up with the future.

Image: Gizmodo

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